A few days ago I decided to pick up Anthem by Ayn Rand.
My roommates and I went to the local thrift store for the weekend book deals. $1 for hardcovers, 50 cents for paperbacks. You can’t beat a deal like that.
One of my roommates, who is a prolific book collector, convinced me I should buy a book or two.
I asked him if there was any Ayn Rand books in the store and he pointed me toward Anthem. According to him, it’s her best book (and the only one worth reading), but that’s another conversation.
I bought the book (and a few others) and kicked off my semester “fun” reading with Anthem.
And now that I’m done with it, I want to share a snippet of it with you.
This part of the book hit me the most. It’s illustrates the problem with a government controlled market. If the government regulates which inventions get produced, how do they decide which ones are worth producing?
Who decides that? Do the politicians who are in bed with special interest groups decide?
This dialogue also shows the end result of collectivism. The allure of “equality” is attractive, but equality can only go so far until it starts rubbing away at your rights.
Take a minute or two and read this passage. It’s well worth your time.
Quick note: this is a world were the individual has been eliminated. There’s no “I” or “me.” It’s all from a collective viewpoint.
All the heads of the Council turned to us as we entered. These great and wise of the earth did not know what to think of us, and they looked upon us with wonder and curiosity, as if we were a miracle. It is true that our tunic was torn and stained with brown stains which had been blood. We raised our right arm and we said:
“Our greeting to you, our honored brothers of the World Council of Scholars!”
Then Collective 0-0009, the oldest and wisest of the Council, spoke and asked:
“Who are you, our brother? For you do not look like a Scholar.”
“Our name is Equality 7-2521,” we answered, “and we are a Street Sweeper of this City.”
Then it was as if a great wind had stricken the hall, for all the Scholars spoke at once, and they were angry and frightened.
“A Street Sweeper! A Street Sweeper walking in upon the World Council of Scholars! It is not to be believed! It is against all the rules and all the laws!”
But we knew how to stop them.
“Our brothers!” we said. “We matter not, nor our transgression. It is only our brother men who matter. Give no thought to us, for we are nothing, but listen to our words, for we bring you a gift such as had never been brought to men. Listen to us, for we hold the future of mankind in our hands.”
Then they listened.
We placed our glass box upon the table before them. We spoke of it, and of our long quest, and of our tunnel, and of our escape from the Palace of Corrective Detention. Not a hand moved in that hall, as we spoke, nor an eye. Then we put the wires to the box, and they all bent forward and sat still, watching. And we stood still, our eyes upon the wire. And slowly, slowly as a flush of blood, a red flame trembled in the wire. Then the wire glowed.
But terror struck the men of the Council. They leapt to their feet, they ran from the table, and they stood pressed against the wall, huddled together, seeking the warmth of one another’s bodies to give them courage.
We looked upon them and we laughed and said:
“Fear nothing, our brothers. There is a great power in these wires, but this power is tamed. It is yours. We give it to you.”
Still they would not move.
“We give you the power of the sky!” we cried. “We give you the key to the earth! Take it, and let us be one of you, the humblest among you. Let us all work together, and harness this power, and make it ease the toil of men. Let us throw away our candles and our torches. Let us flood our cities with light. Let us bring a new light to men!”
But they looked upon us, and suddenly we were afraid. For their eyes were still, and small, and evil.
“Our brothers!” we cried. “Have you nothing to say to us?”
Then Collective 0-0009 moved forward. They moved to the table and the others followed.
“Yes,” spoke Collective 0-0009, “we have much to say to you.”
The sound of their voices brought silence to the hall and to beat of our heart.
“Yes,” said Collective 0-0009, “we have much to say to a wretch who have broken all the laws and who boast of their infamy!
“How dared you think that your mind held greater wisdom than the minds of your brothers? And if the Councils had decreed that you should be a Street Sweeper, how dared you think that you could be of greater use to men than in sweeping the streets?”
“How dared you, gutter cleaner,” spoke Fraternity 9-3452, “to hold yourself as one alone and with the thoughts of the one and not of the many?”
“You shall be burned at the stake,” said Democracy 4-6998.
“No, they shall be lashed,” said Unanimity 7-3304, “till there is nothing left under the lashes.”
“No,” said Collective 0-0009, “we cannot decide upon this, our brothers. No such crime has ever been committed, and it is not for us to judge. Nor for any small Council. We shall deliver this creature to the World Council itself and let their will be done.”
We looked upon them and we pleaded:
“Our brothers! You are right. Let the will of the Council be done upon our body. We do not care. But the light? What will you do with the light?”
Collective 0-0009 looked upon us, and they smiled.
“So you think that you have found a new power,” said Collective 0-0009. “Do all your brothers think that?”
“No,” we answered.
“What is not thought by all men cannot be true,” said Collective 0-0009.
“You have worked on this alone?” asked International 1-5537.
“Many men in the Homes of the Scholars have had strange new ideas in the past,” said Solidarity 8-1164, “but when the majority of their brother Scholars voted against them, they abandoned their ideas, as all men must.”
“This box is useless,” said Alliance 6-7349.
“Should it be what they claim of it,” said Harmony 9-2642, “then it would bring ruin to the Department of Candles. The Candle is a great boon to mankind, as approved by all men. Therefore it cannot be destroyed by the whim of one.”
“This would wreck the Plans of the World Council,” said Unanimity 2-9913, “and without the Plans of the World Council the sun cannot rise. It took fifty years to secure the approval of all the Councils for the Candle, and to decide upon the number needed, and to re-fit the Plans so as to make candles instead of torches. This touched upon thousands and thousands of men working in scores of States. We cannot alter the Plans again so soon.”
“And if this should lighten the toil of men,” said Similarity 5-0306, “then it is a great evil, for men have no cause to exist save in toiling for other men.”
Then Collective 0-0009 rose and pointed at our box.
“This thing,” they said, “must be destroyed.”
And all the others cried as one:
“It must be destroyed!”
Then we leapt to the table.
We seized our box, we shoved them aside, and we ran to the window. We turned and we looked at them for the last time, and a rage, such as it is not fit for humans to know, choked our voice in our throat.
“You fools!” we cried. “You fools! You thrice-damned fools!”
We swung our fist through the windowpane, and we leapt out in a ringing rain of glass.
A Few Words…
Notice what the Council asks Equality 7-2521. It’s not about whether his invention works, or how it works, or if it’s even safe.
All they cared about was if it was collectively approved of.
To them, value wasn’t determined by outside forces. It wasn’t determined by other people using their money and time to buy the new innovation. It wasn’t determined by how much it helped their brothers.
To them, it was determined by how it was created. Did everyone come up with it? Did everyone have a voice in its creation? Did everyone equally take part in it?
And don’t you love that part about the department of candles?
These guys were faced with the greatest invention ever, and they were worried about an archaic form of light.
Electricity vs. candles. Which one do you choose?
It’s not a hard choice.
It reminds me of the taxi cab industry. The local governments regulate the taxi industry, which means the taxi industry lobbies for bills and policies that help them.
When Uber came onto the scene it wasn’t a matter of how much customers are enjoying it. It was a matter of does this hurt the current taxi industry.
Customers love Uber. It works, it’s fast, it’s cheap.
The taxi industry doesn’t like them for those very reasons. Uber takes their customers away.
What’s the taxi cab industry’s answer to this? Take out Uber. Get rid of the competition.
The World Council of Scholars acted in the same way. Competition wasn’t a problem for them (because they had no market), but changing the status quo was a problem. They’d rather be kept in the dark ages then have electricity.
In a utopian world where the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, the needs of the many might mean delaying progress.
And that’s exactly what they did. They delated progress for the greater good.
How benevolent of them…